Fighting for You

One of our union’s key functions is working together with members to solve issues when employees are being treated unfairly. As a labor union, HGEA advocates for workers’ rights in the workplace, including job security, pay and benefits, as well as for good working conditions. Much of our work is done quietly in the background, and many of you may not be aware of the daily work we do fighting for members. You may wonder, “How can my union help me?”

HGEA is here to help all members with any issue you may have in your workplace, big or small. Whether it’s an issue such as job conditions, work environment, promotions or duties, HGEA helps with everyday problems that you may face and is dedicated to protecting you. We are responsible for providing contract enforcement, receiving and investigating member complaints/concerns and filing/presenting formal grievances as well as assisting members in reorganizations, consultations and interpretation of rules, regulations, and policies and procedures related to conditions of employment, and providing arbitration representation.

Following are several examples of actual cases where HGEA members needed help, they turned to their union, and we successfully resolved their cases. We hope these stories help you understand more of what we do and how we can help you should the need arise. If you have any questions or need help, please contact your island division or the HGEA member service center at service@hgea.org or (808) 543-0000.

HGEA Gets Deputy Sheriff’s Job Back After Wrongful Termination

In the 30-plus years that he had been an HGEA member, Brian Brunn never had to ask his union for help. But after he was blindsided with a notice of termination from his job as a deputy sheriff in February 2019, he turned to HGEA. Nearly two years later, as a result of an arbitration decision, Brunn was reinstated to his former position as deputy sheriff at the state Department of Public Safety (PSD), with back pay and benefits.

“The union really did go out of their way to help me. They were there when I needed them,” Brunn said. “What can I say, except thank you so much.”

Unfair and unjust discharge
This case of wrongful termination began back in May 2018 when Brunn suffered an injury on the job and was on worker’s compensation. He had gone through several operations and was told by his physician that he could return to full duty in October 2018. But even after providing the necessary documentation, and additionally being cleared to go back to work by a doctor the State had directed him to see for a physical exam, Brunn was denied official clearance by PSD.

PSD claimed they wanted Brunn to return to work, but he was not included in a department email that informed him so. Instead, he was sent two letters by certified mail, which purportedly directed him to return to work on January 28, 2019, but he never received the letters.

There were no attempts to make personal contact with Brunn or personally deliver the return to work notice to him, as has been past practice with other department employees. That is, until Brunn was hand-delivered the termination letter by a fellow deputy sheriff for failure to report to work for 15 calendar days, which PSD considered insubordination.

“Why couldn’t they show him the same personal courtesy when it came to delivering the return to work notice as they did when they hand delivered the termination letter?” asked HGEA Advocacy Chief Stacy Moniz. “Brian never received a return to work notice nor was he informed that PSD had cleared him for duty, and he was not warned of any disciplinary action that could be taken against him if he did not return.”

Part of PSD’s second recruit class, Brunn has more than 30 years of public service and no record of prior disciplinary action. “This was outrageous, treating him in this way,” Moniz said. “So much disrespect directed at a veteran of public safety. It was shameful.”

When Moniz became involved with Brunn’s case, he determined there was a “lack of just and proper cause to terminate” and filed a formal grievance. PSD denied the grievance and the case proceeded to arbitration.

“Stacy fought for me every time, every meeting, every time we encountered PSD. He was like my own personal representative, but he was free,” said Brunn, chuckling.

Getting by with the help of good friends
In the meantime, Brunn was struggling to survive since he had no income after his unemployment claim was denied. “I did whatever I could. I had modest savings. I sold a car and several items on Craigslist. Foodbank was another option that I turned to,” he said, explaining how he got by. “Rent was a problem and hadn’t been paid for several months. I was sent letters of eviction. I made a promise to pay the full amount when I was employed. Car insurance and other bills had to wait. Fortunately, I was blessed with friends who stopped by with something to eat and an envelope of cash to help.”

One of those friends was HGEA. When Brunn was threatened with eviction, HGEA and Executive Director Randy Perreira assisted by connecting him with the Hawaii State AFL-CIO’s Labor Community Services Program, which paid one month’s rent to keep him afloat. “HGEA went out of their way to help. I suffered a little bit, but with the union behind me the burden wasn’t that great. Nate Wong kept in contact with me, making sure I was okay going through this ordeal. Stacy kept me informed, told me how everything was proceeding. They provided whatever they could to help. That’s what you call good friends.”

While awaiting arbitration proceedings and almost a year after he was terminated, Brunn was hired as an investigator with the state Department of Attorney General in December 2019. He resigned from that position after the arbitration decision and award was made on June 29, 2020.

“We’re thrilled with the result,” Moniz said. “We hope this kind of egregious situation never happens again.”

As for Brunn, he can’t wait to get back to work. “I enjoy my job. I want to work and feel I can still contribute to the system,” he said. “I’m happy with the outcome of the arbitration. I used to think what am I paying dues for? But the union came through when I needed them. I’m really grateful. They’re the real deal.”

County of Kauai’s Workweek Schedule Rectified After Being Implemented Without Consultation

In a case that became contentious over the last few months, the issue of a modified workweek schedule affecting about 400 County of Kauai employees has now been rectified, with a majority of County workers reverting back to their five-day, eight-hour schedule and the rest continuing the four-day, 10-hour schedule that was implemented from May to July 2020.

“Members who opted to remain on the 5-8 work schedules as well as those who preferred to work a modified 4-10 schedule have expressed satisfaction with their schedules,” said Kaulana Finn, HGEA’s Kauai island division chief. “The Mayor and his administration should have negotiated then in the same fashion that they ended up doing now, which was to allow those who wished to remain on the 5-8 schedule to do so, and those who preferred to work the modified 4-10 schedule to be able to work that schedule as well.”

“I appreciate that HGEA was there to gather member feedback and ensure I could continue working the 5-8 schedule, said Shantelle Rego (Unit 13), Recycling Specialist, County of Kauai Solid Waste Division. I have a lot of sports events for my children and family activities so this schedule was more accommodating, and I could focus on that instead of having to take vacation time.”

“I am grateful that HGEA worked with the employer to help support my request to work the modified 4-10 schedule,” said Kelly Agena (Unit 13), Information Technology Specialist, County of Kauai Department of Finance. The extra day off each week gives me a chance to spend more quality time with my son.”

Mutual agreement
Since Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami ended the four-day, 10-hour work schedule on July 27 and returned to a five-day, eight-hour work schedule, approximately 100 County employees to date have requested to remain on the 4-10 schedule. HGEA and the County of Kauai agreed on the language for the Letter of Understanding, which was signed by each of these employees and is effective through June 30, 2021.

But before this current agreement was worked out between Kauai County and HGEA, many members were upset in late April when Kawakami unilaterally implemented a temporary but mandatory four-day, 10-hour week from May 4, 2020 until July 27, 2020. Affected employees in county offices suddenly had their schedules shifted to Monday through Thursday, 6:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with offices that served the public closed on Friday. The County did not honor its duty to negotiate with HGEA.

HGEA could not agree to a mandatory, across-the board 4-10 work schedule. We acknowledged that some employees were willing to work the 4-10 schedule, and we were not opposed to allowing these employees to voluntarily modify their hours to a 4-10 schedule. However, a majority of the affected members opposed the 4-10 proposal and voiced serious concerns of personal and economic hardship — such as family and childcare obligations, a second and third job — if forced to work a 4-10 schedule. To obtain an exemption, these members had to put in a written request with the County’s Department of Human Resources.

Due to the failure to negotiate, on May 1, 2020, the union filed a Prohibited Practice Complaint against Mayor Kawakami with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board (HLRB) over the County’s unilateral implementation of a 4-10 work schedule, maintaining that this work schedule change violated Chapter 89 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes and collective bargaining agreements, and that it is a negotiable matter requiring mutual agreement before implementation. An HLRB hearing on HGEA’s Prohibited Practice Complaint was conducted in July and August.

Collective bargaining not suspended
One of the key sticking points in the dispute with the County was whether or not Hawaii’s collective bargaining law had been suspended when Governor Ige issued emergency proclamations relating to COVID-19. On July 20, 2020, the HLRB issued an oral ruling in HGEA’s favor stating that HRS Chapter 89 (Collective Bargaining) was not suspended as Mayor Kawakami maintained. Prior to HLRB’s decision, Kawakami issued an advisory stating that the 4-10 work schedule his administration mandated and unilaterally imposed in May will end on July 27, 2020.

Commenting on the ruling, HGEA Advocacy Chief Stacy Moniz said, “We’re pleased with the confirmation by HLRB of what we have maintained that HRS Chapter 89 was not suspended in its entirety by the Governor. We also believe that this decision supports our position that the County cannot unilaterally change work weeks without first consulting and negotiating with HGEA. We’re not against the idea of modifying work schedules to protect employee health and safety, but we're strongly opposed to the way the administration refused to bargain and unilaterally implemented the change on all county workers. This ruling enforces the fact that the County is still bound by Chapter 89 and they need to honor our members' respective contracts even during a pandemic.”

On a separate note, HGEA filed a class grievance pursuing overtime compensation for all affected employees who worked more than their contractual eight-hour shifts during the imposed 4-10 work schedule from May 4 to July 27, 2020. The County denied the class grievance, and the case is currently on track to proceed to arbitration.

Big Win for Hawaii Island Workers: Class Action Grievance on Overtime & Meal Allowances

In a case that illustrates HGEA’s continuous fight for fairness for our members and the vital work they do, 21 conservation and resource enforcement officers (CREOs) on Hawaii Island who had worked from May to August 2018 during the Kilauea lava flow in the Puna district recently won a class action grievance of overtime and meal allowances owed to them during that time. The win resulted in a total payout amount of $105,676.76 from their employer, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

Although the CREOs, who are members of Bargaining Unit 14, had worked overtime, they were not compensated for their overtime hours and meal allowances in accordance with the contract. In fact, DLNR violated the collective bargaining agreement by instructing them to submit timesheets not reflective of the overtime hours actually worked. On behalf of these Unit 14 members, HGEA Union Agent Audrey Kahawai-Kekipi filed a grievance in October 2018 after the violation became known. “We fought for them to be compensated in line with the overtime and meal allowance articles in the contract and not by what the employer told them they needed to claim,” Kahawai-Kekipi said. “Essentially, the employer had shortchanged them.”

CREOs are not typically considered shift workers, yet the employer created shifts and did not pay them accordingly. In addition, the officers are usually compensated for drive time from home to the worksite and then from the worksite to home after their scheduled hours of work. In this case, they were not. Kahawai-Kekipi noted, “CREOs assisted with ensuring safety of the public per each 12-hour shift worked in the lava zone. Some of them drove two hours pre-shift and two hours post-shift. It’s a safety hazard because they were working between 14 to 16 hours including drive time and were getting less than 12 hours of rest in between shifts.” According to the Unit 14 contract, overtime work occurs “in operating units subject to shift work when an Employee is required to report to a new shift with less than lapse of twelve (12) hours of rest, the Employee shall continue to earn overtime until such a rest period is granted.” During this time, DLNR did not consult with HGEA on any of the changes to the CREOs’ work conditions, hours and wages.

“The successful resolution of this grievance was the result of teamwork,” said Kahawai-Kekipi, giving credit to the HGEA staff that helped guide her with the grievance process and were instrumental in securing the settlement agreement — Consultant Nora Nomura, Advocacy Chief Stacy Moniz, Deputy Executive Director Debra Kagawa and Union Agent Lorena Kauhi.

“After we showed the employer the documents to support our case and the data to clearly show what was owed to each individual, it didn’t take long for them to acknowledge and agree to the settlement,” Kahawai-Kekipi said. “What’s important is that the integrity of the contract is preserved. In this case, HGEA’s fearless advocacy helped to ensure that. The members are very happy with this win. They are grateful and understand the importance and value of being an HGEA member.”

HGEA Helps Park Ranger Who Faced Workplace Retaliation

What would you do if you believed your boss asked you to do something against a co-worker that wasn’t right? What if your boss ridiculed you repeatedly for not doing it? Then changed your days off without consulting with you, knowing that your days off were your Sabbath.

This situation happened to a fellow HGEA Unit 3 member who is a Park Ranger. He turned to his union for help. A grievance was filed on his behalf, and after a process that included an investigation, meetings, discussions, and an arbitration hearing, relief was provided to the union member.

The Park Ranger had been on the job for about 10 years, and it was going well until the day his boss asked him to watch a new co-worker and “get dirt on him.” The Park Ranger balked at the request. The boss wanted him to stay with the co-worker constantly throughout the day and report back. When he didn’t comply, the boss verbally harassed him and eventually changed his days off knowing that he had waited several years to get Friday and Saturday off.

The arbitrator determined that the Employer violated Article 4(B) and 5 of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The decision concluded that Article 4(B) requires that changes in conditions of work covered by the CBA be made with mutual consent and whenever possible, work schedules shall provide an Employee with two consecutive days off. The arbitrator also determined that it was still possible to accomplish the Employer’s mission and grant the Park Ranger Fridays and Saturdays off.

The case was successfully presented by the HGEA Advocacy Group. Stacy Moniz, advocacy chief who argued the case, stated that he is very happy with the result because through the union’s efforts the harassment and retaliation against a union member was eliminated. Moniz stressed that hopefully the decision would motivate the Employer to be more proactive in preventing incidents like this one.

This case helps to illustrate how employees can be mistreated in the workplace and why enforcing HGEA’s collective bargaining agreement, your contract, is so important. To view a copy of your contract, log in to the HGEA website and go to the Member Dashboard. It’s important for everyone to review their contract and know their rights.

Adverse Action in Temporary Assignment Process

The following story highlights a case of injustice in the promotional process and how that was eventually resolved. For privacy reasons the member’s name and department are being withheld.

A state employee in a secretarial position was excited to learn about a potential temporary promotional opportunity in her department. Looking like a good fit for her skills and experience, she submitted her application and went through the interview process. It was a happy day when she was notified that she got the temporary assignment and was given a start date. But the temporary assignment never materialized. “The department never notified me that they had rescinded the offer. They had mentioned it to my supervisor — she was told not to tell me — but she did anyway and that is how I found out,” said the Unit 3 member. “No official written notice was given to me until over a year later.”

She reached out to her union representative at HGEA. At first it seemed like the situation had hit a dead end because the deadline for filing a grievance had passed. She was told there was nothing that could be done. But she persisted in following up because she believed that she was treated unfairly. In the meantime, her former agent resigned, and she was assigned to Advocacy Chief Stacy Moniz.

Upon further investigation, Moniz found enough information to file a step one grievance, asking for and obtaining documentation in the process. At step one, where the employer and union meet, there was no resolution. The department held firm on its decision to retract the promotion. Moniz believed that there was a violation of the employees’ rights; he found that false statements were made and had documentation to back up the claims. He made it clear that HGEA would not back down and that this case would be heading to arbitration. Because of the employee’s persistence and union advocacy, the department eventually settled.

“From day one Stacy made me feel like a whole person. I had someone on my side to help me. I am just happy it’s now behind me,” said the member. “I am forever grateful for Stacy and HGEA.” The employee did not get the temporary promotion, but she was compensated and will receive 50% of the pay differential that she would have received in the TA position for the 18-month duration. “Every day when our members clock in, HGEA is there to deal with the issues and problems that they have to face on the job. If our union wasn’t there to help, who would be?” said Moniz.

Unfair Mandatory Overtime at Hawaii State Hospital

In June 2017 the Hawaii State Hospital implemented mandatory overtime for Unit 9 registered nurses without consulting HGEA. As an example, if one nurse worked an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift and another nurse called in sick or took vacation for the next shift, about 10 minutes before the 11-7 shift ended the nurse finishing his or her shift was ordered to work the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift. If he or she refused, it was considered insubordination and there was threat of disciplinary action.

“With no guidelines or policies in place, the mandatory overtime was unfair and punitive to the nurses who came to work,” said Jojo Kawana, a registered nurse at the state hospital and Unit 9 director on the HGEA State Board of Directors.

HGEA, namely Advocacy Chief Stacy Moniz, first filed a grievance on behalf of the nurses. “Stacy met with the nurses. He listened, believed and understood the issues, our concerns and our frustrations,” added Kawana. A prohibited practice complaint was then filed with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board, which conducts hearings to fairly and efficiently resolve labor disputes, and decides complaints filed by public and private sector employees, employee organizations or unions, and employers alleging prohibited or unfair labor practice complaints.

After numerous meetings with the hospital administration, a settlement agreement was reached by HGEA and the employer, Hawaii State Hospital. While mandatory overtime is not prohibited due to hospital safety and may be required at times, the agreement provides clear guidelines for the nurses and management to follow. “Through mutual cooperation of the nurses and hospital management, we’ve created a more positive work environment at the hospital,” said Moniz.

Kawana agrees. “Nurses have reported having Stacy with them at their meetings and investigations have reduced their stress. They can see the value and importance of the union and being a union member.”

Hawaii Labor Relations Board Rules in Favor of HGEA: Medical Examiner’s Investigators Join Unit 13

When a person dies unexpectedly, accidently or violently on Oahu, it’s not only police who respond. City and County of Honolulu Medical Examiner’s investigators are there, too. These investigators are the men and women who gather evidence, determine the facts, and talk to witnesses to help the medical examiner determine a person’s cause of death. Often, they are also tasked with the difficult job of letting a family member know that their loved one has passed. The advanced education, knowledge, skills and abilities required to perform these jobs are more consistently found in Bargaining Unit 13 than in Bargaining Units 3 and 4.

Based upon HGEA’s petition to the Hawaii Labor Relations Board, the Board ruled Medical Examiner’s Investigators I and II and Medical Examiner’s Investigative and Operations Supervisors are to be transferred from Bargaining Units 3 and 4, respectively, to Bargaining Unit 13.

HGEA Wins Settlement for Educational Assistants

HGEA filed a Prohibited Practice Complaint with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board in June 2013 against the State Department of Education and the Board of Education for failing to consult with the union on the decision to withhold a paycheck from the Zones of School Innovation Educational Assistants. In December 2014, a decision in favor of the union was rendered.

Funding for payments went through the legislative process, and payments to the educational assistants were recently made in the summer of 2015.

This case and others like it that fight for fair treatment for HGEA members are funded through union dues that are paid by all members.

Grievance Settlement Preserves Member’s Benefits

A Unit 9 (registered professional nurse) member contacted HGEA about a scheduling problem in an emergency room that was adversely affecting his working conditions. More specifically, because of insufficient staffing in the emergency room, this RPN was scheduled to work almost every weekend for an extended period. Under the Unit 9 contract, employees are not to be scheduled to work more than three consecutive weekends without getting a weekend off. Only in the event of an emergency can an employee be required to work in excess of such limitations. However, there was no emergency. The underlying problem was a lack of nurses to properly staff this emergency room on a 24/7, 365 basis. To receive time off during weekends, he was forced to take vacation leave, which is inappropriate. In addition, he was denied overtime as required under the Unit 9 contract whenever he worked a fourth consecutive weekend, which occurred quite frequently over many months.

As a remedy in our grievance, HGEA required the employer to comply with the Unit 9 contract by crediting his vacation leave balances whenever this member was forced to work more than three consecutive weekends, and paying overtime for each hour of work performed on the fourth consecutive weekend, including any applicable differentials.

We were successful in achieving these remedies through the grievance process. The employer agreed to credit this member’s vacation leave whenever he worked the fourth consecutive weekend and to pay overtime for all the hours he worked during those particular periods. This provided a significant monetary benefit to him in the payment of overtime and the restoration of his vacation leave.

HGEA Helps Hawaii County Employee Get Her Job Back

In 2012, Hawaii County Elections Program Administrator Pat Nakamoto’s world was turned upside down when she was wrongly accused of allowing employees to store private equipment and alcohol on county property. After years of exemplary service she was suddenly under investigation as accusations flew during a tumultuous political year. The situation was hitting the local newspapers, and as a high-profile county employee, she was eventually fired.

As the situation deteriorated from an investigation to termination, Nakamoto for the first time turned to her union, the Hawaii Government Employees Association, for help. Her union agent and the HGEA Hawaii Island division chief listened to her explain the situation and what had happened. They quickly realized that she hadn’t violated any rules and that the union had a good case to fight for her. As they continued their investigation, they also educated Nakamoto on the grievance process and what events were likely to lie ahead. As time went by, the situation didn’t improve immediately. The first grievances filed were denied. Nakamoto was left worrying about how she would get by and pay her bills and if she would be able to get another job. Because she had no job, she had to get her own health insurance and pay exorbitant premiums. Additionally, she had been denied unemployment benefits. It was a very difficult, stressful time for her. The union was the one constant positive during this time, providing advocacy and fighting for her when she did not have any income and her future was uncertain.

Nakamoto was your typical HGEA member who worked hard, did her job and didn’t have any worksite problems. She never thought she would need to call on the union for assistance. “I realized after being a union member for all these years and not being involved, how very important the union really is,” said Nakamoto. “HGEA was there for me when I needed them. It really is like an insurance policy — we pay our dues and may never need the help, but then something devastating happens. You don’t know how much your dues are worth until something happens to you.”

HGEA continued to work through the proper channels of the procedures that have been put in place by the union through negotiations with the employer — this allows for an unbiased review of the complaints on both sides to come up with a fair resolution. These hard-fought and bargained for contractual rights and benefits give the union the ability to fight for our members. They’re there to protect all HGEA members.

Eventually, after about a year, Nakamoto was reinstated. “I am very happy that I am a union member,” said Nakamoto. “Without HGEA, I wouldn’t have gotten my job back.”